Monday, June 29, 2015

Life and Flags and the Horse World

Life last week was bizarre and sad and happy all at once, huh?

You probably already know about Lauren and all that she is going through. I don't have the words for her, not at all, but I want to again express how deeply sad I am for her. Tracy set up a GoFundMe for her, if you want to contribute financially.

And of course, the Charleston church shootings have been weighing on me heavily. While there has never been an easy time to be a person of color in America, the past year has been especially horrifying. I'm a professional historian, remember, and while my work focuses on queer people, many queer people are people of color. I also study the South specifically. I could go on about this at length and would be happy to, but it is well beyond time to take the Confederate flag down off any government sites where it remains.

I'm guessing I won't be telling anyone here anything new, but listen: there is no way to argue that the Civil War wasn't about slavery. It was. Go read the Articles of Secession if you don't believe me--all of the states said that they were seceding because they wanted to keep their slaves and the winds weren't blowing that way up north. It's not a grey area. If you need more evidence, this is what the Vice President of the Confederacy, Alexander Stephens, said about it:

Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery -- subordination to the superior race -- is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.
 If that isn't a punch in the gut, I don't know what is.

A few weeks ago at a horse show, M was riding a client's horse, and that client came to help out and brought one of her students with her. That student was wearing a very loud Confederate flag shirt. I'm a white person, but I found myself feeling extremely uncomfortable around her. The mentality that goes into the choice to wear a Confederate flag is not one that is often friendly to queers, and I'm a pretty visible one. She didn't say anything rude to me (it would take some serious cojones to say something shitty to me about my gender presentation/sexuality/anything really in front of my particular coach, though, so no points awarded to her for that). But even if all Confederate flag wielders were openly supportive of queer people, I would still feel seriously uncomfortable around them because of the statement it makes to people of color, with whom I do my best to stand in solidarity.

The horse world is a pretty white place. We can all think of, and some of us are, equestrians of color. But being able to think of someone who isn't white participating in something doesn't mean that it's a space that is always comfortable for POC to be in. And wearing a Confederate flag to a horse show is chilling, in that context. She felt comfortable enough with the idea that she was in a white-dominated space (as many spaces are) that she could do that.

"But horse people are so nice and I've never seen a Confederate flag at a horse show ever."

Listen, horse people can be super great. M is one of the best humans I've ever met. I love a great many of you. But just because someone is nice to me at a show--like this girl, who seemed genuinely friendly with M and the client and so on--doesn't mean that they don't harbor feelings about marginalized groups that I find abhorrent. You know? "Nice" is lovely but it doesn't get us all off the hook for self-reflection at the very least.

And now, after Friday's Supreme Court decision legalizing marriage equality in all 50 states, there's another flag to talk about. My feelings on this one are a little bit more complicated, to be honest. Marriage isn't an institution I'm especially interested in participating in. I also don't love that the entire conversation around queer identities seems to be hung on marriage, when LGBT people can still be fired or denied housing, legally, in most states and according to the federal government. Gay and lesbian people have somewhat more protections in this area than do trans people, whose lives are on the line every day. We've got a situation on our hands where 40% of homeless youth are LGBT and something like 30% of LGBT youth are homeless. I find those numbers shocking. And so marriage, to me, has always felt like a less important issue. If marriage is an institution that exists, then queer folks should have access to it. And beyond that I've never gotten all that worked up about it.

But Friday's decision was great nonetheless, and while I watched Facebook explode into rainbows (because I have a carefully-curated list of friends and no time for homophobic nonsense), I found myself getting excited about it. I can be a curmudgeon for the rest of the year and keep my focus on the issues that resonate with me more than marriage does, but I appreciated taking the day to enjoy finally having a constitutional protection, which is not something my crew is used to having.

This is what I said on Facebook about it:

When I'm in a riding lesson, on my young horse, and things are going well, my coach and I will talk about whether this is a good moment to "get greedy" and ask for more, or whether it's best to leave things where they are and be happy. With the horse, that's a bit complex, because you want to move things along without frying the little darling's mind or losing confidence.

With the past couple of weeks and couple of centuries being what they've been around here, this is ABSOLUTELY the time to get greedy. Health care, removal of racist symbols from government sites, and marriage equality are BASIC. Now is the moment to push and get some real shit done, not to give the horse a pat on the neck and be done. This is the warmup, not the jump off.
 And then I did this to my profile pic:

Riding Rainbow!

And then a friend gave me some rainbow flags so I did this to the saddle pads I'd planned to use on Saturday before I decided to scratch in lieu of buying water wings for Mo:

They'll still be beautiful at the next show.
I know people think the horse world is super gay-friendly, and it certainly can be, but I was also aware that putting these on my saddle pads at this particular horse show in this particular town could have made life a little uncomfortable. But that's fine with me, because unlike Confederates, gay people don't have a history of oppressing and enslaving other people. So instead of being uncomfortable because they're feeling unsafe, due to someone wearing a sign of the oppressor, some folks might feel weird because they're not comfortable with gay people. And the best cure for that is knowing gay people!

Instead of writing this entire thing, I suppose I could have just posted this, from the Southern Poverty Law Center's Facebook page:

Friday, June 19, 2015

Jump like Michael, Move like RuPaul

I had a really good jump school on Mo yesterday. I was pleased that I was riding well, anyway. He was fresh and green--two things that are inevitable when you have a 6yo OTTB that you restarted less than a year ago. Especially because he was in overnight last night due to threats of storms, so he had a lot of fuel to burn.

Adding to the fun, I did something weird to my back the night before. I think this actually helped: I wanted to get the lesson done and dusted before my back really started to fall apart. So when he gave me bullshit shenanigans, I was like "seriously, get the fuck over yourself and jump that" and it worked. I was able to stay in the professional mindset that I found in the jump and XC schools last week. Thank god, because there's no crying in eventing, right?

So anyway, the take-home point is that I need to find Mo's jumping canter and keep it there, with soft arms, and just keep every stride the same. This is easier said than done on a horse who apparently does not love to canter (see yesterday), but it's a goal worth working towards.

I swear once or twice the horse jumped the standards. He's so much fun when all the fish are swimming in the same direction in his brain. (Part of me is all "DO NOT MESS UP THE NICE HORSE," but that's the part of me I'm trying to silence. I have M. She won't let me mess him up.) Anyway, at the end of a good round M asked if I wanted to leave it there or push it a little more on the height (we'd been jumping about 2'3"-2'6", not exactly a scope check). I told her I wanted to leave it because he'd been SO good. She seemed pleased with this choice, and we talked about how incredibly important it is to never ever show a horse what they can't do, only what they can do. She said the horse should think we're saying, "It's not easy; you're just that good." And then creep the jumps up over time.

Today I had a kinda frustrating flat school in which he inverted and got stuck behind my leg and acted like a tool. M wasn't around so I just worked it out for myself. Remembering what Brian Ross told me, I ignored the shenanigans he was pulling with his head and just put my leg on to keep his hind feet moving up under the girth and his body straight. Disclaimer: I was operating on about 4 hours of sleep and had already been doing chores for hours by the time I got on him at, oh, 7:30 this morning. So I was maybe just the tiniest bit loopy, and when I get loopy and am riding alone I just talk to the horses like they're people. I was explaining to him that what I was asking wasn't hard, he just needed to get in front of my leg and accept the contact and then I'd leave him alone until Monday. I'd only budgeted 20 minutes of riding time, and 40 minutes into the ride, I just said to him: "You need to TROT like a DRAG QUEEN on STAGE, Mo! Think RuPaul!"
Hair fan and all. (Note: this is over the winter. He is shiny now.)

 And that worked in my brain because it put the picture of his ideal trot in my head and then my subconscious helped me get him as close to that as we were gonna get today. I wanted his trot to be fancy and bold and with a lot of sparkle (because when he trots like that he CAN'T invert, and also he likes it because he's an athlete). So instead of harassing him endlessly about giving me the right rein or whatever, I just sent him down the long side all "now werq!" And he did. Voila. The last ten minutes of the ride were as good as they were going to get today.

And you thought I'd given up being gay on this blog. HA!

Thursday, June 18, 2015


Mo and I have had our ups and downs, which is how it goes with green horses, especially when they have me riding them instead of Mary King. The past couple weeks have been excellent, between the XC school and the show and the evidence of his jumping progress (and another jumping lesson later today, yay). But the videos from which I got those great stills also had some hilarious shots of my horse being a butthead about cantering.

Why is he a butthead about cantering? Because he's lazy. It's work to be in a faster gait and have to still be balanced and all that stuff. It's funny--his canter is naturally really nice, so he shouldn't get this wrapped around the axle about it, but it's who he is. And it's coming a long way, even since this lesson last month. Maybe there will be evidence of that again soon.

So anyway, I thought that for your amusement, and to assure you that it isn't all kisses and carrots around here, I'd share some of my favorite stills of Mo totally failing to canter. Enjoy.


A view of this maneuver from the other side.

He's calling his union rep.

"My blaze is still pretty upside down"

"I. Want. That. Rein."

Yep. We jumped down that line. It was fine, actually.

Can I please have my standing martingale back?
Hee. If riding through that won't make me keep my shoulders back, nothing bloody will. His little fits are ridiculous, and while they're hilarious, I'd rather have a lovely canter. So maybe in eight months I can do another comparison post and be all "look how dumb he was then and how dumb he isn't now!" Horse training: Making the horse (and rider) less dumb over time. Right?

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Progress Over Fences

It struck me when I was writing the recap of our XC school the other day that Mo has come a very long way indeed in his jumping. He's still green and will be for a long time, but he's such a natural that jumping really is easy for him. Especially if I'm riding half-decently.

So below are some pics from an early jump school very soon after I bought him, followed by some that my mom got for me in early May. It might be awhile before I have any more good schooling pics, but I'll take what I can get. It's so much fun to see pictures of him because I know he feels incredible, but I didn't really see how good he looks until I took the time to closely watch these videos a few days ago.

Early intro to the liverpool, which he jumps reliably now


It's hard to look great over jumps this small with a horse this green

OMG his neck was so scrawny

Love those happy ears

And here are some from May 8, also video stills. I'm so glad my mom will come tape things for us when she can. It's easier to get people to tape/photograph a horse show, but right now he's jumping well below our schooling level at shows, so those pictures aren't as fun (except the Sandstone ones, I love those still). That'll change eventually, but watching him plop over crossrails isn't thrilling.

Not unhappy with my lower leg here

Those knees tho

He loves his job.

Still like my leg, hating my upper body and lack of release.
The green horse excuse is there but I can equitate better.

I suck here but he looks PHENOMENAL to me. Holy crap.

His whole body has changed a lot, thanks to all that free choice alfalfa and just getting in shape. In those early crossrail days, there was good reason to feel optimistic but not a lot of hard evidence of his ability. And while these jumps are not enormous by any standard, he's showing that he knows just what to do to get over them, and using the same spring off the ground and shape in the air will make the actually big jumps easy for him. He'll be a 4' horse, he might even be a 5' horse, but here's the thing--there won't be any rushing him. We have a lot of work to do to get him more broke at the canter, and all he needs right now is to feel successful in what he's asked to do. It's not my last year in the juniors, so we'll take our time. I know M is on the same page as me, because while she'll sometimes put a jump or two up to 2'9" (and we've jumped those barrels up at least one more hole from that), that's still stuff he's happy to trot over if things get weird. She hasn't done anything like build a grid with a gigantic oxer at the end of it--that stuff is a blast, but not for a horse like this yet. He's a baby. We'll get there. And it'll be seriously fun.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Growing Up at Morningside

After last week's fabulously educational (if at times frustrating) XC school, I wondered what Mo would think about getting back on the trailer again on Saturday to go to the BEAUTIFUL AND AMAZING Morningside Training Farm for one of their combined tests. This is the site of Lex's one and only show just about a year ago, and I'd been eager to go back ever since. The facility is amazing, the show is professionally run, and you will seriously never ever find nicer footing. What's not to love?

My excellent mother came along with me for this excursion, and I'm very grateful because I'd have been alone otherwise. And I think Mo will be a horse I can easily take to a show alone in another year or so, but at the moment, he still needs some time and I find a lot of reassurance knowing someone can help me get the saddle on while I'm managing him, and stand there while I get on (often the hardest part of the day for me with him). So ten million thanks to my own SuperMom, who stuffed his face with carrots the whole time. And get this--because he had a bit in his mouth the entire time he was off the trailer since he has to be bridled on the trailer, she'd bite the carrots into smaller bits for him. What a hero.

So anyway, we got there and did all the things you do like pick up packets and walk the course. I was thrilled with my number. I've always had a thing about numbers that I'd never articulated until I started going to shows with M and her BFF K this year. They're numbers-obsessed. Fives are good, and look: I got two of them. I texted K and she was like "OMG buy a lottery ticket."

I lunged him in a grassy corner of the parking lot before getting on to warm up for dressage, because I don't need a fall in the dressage warmup, ha. But he was fine after a couple minutes, even stopping to eat grass, which made me laugh with surprise. Pro tip: if your horse is trying to graze while lunging, he is not freaking out about the surroundings. So I hopped on and trotted some circles where I'd been lunging him. He was fantastic--soft, responsive, happy to change the bend. The only time he spooked was when a pony with an ear net walked by. M is firmly anti-ear net and I'm not sure he'd seen one before. I figured it would be better to get him used to the chaos in the dressage warmup sooner rather than later, so we walked up a path which went over a ditch some horses wouldn't cross happily, past a starting gate (I don't think he knows what that is, ha), and around the training track (again, he's technically an OTTB but I don't think he has strong enough memories of the track to have gotten wound up about it).

Dressage warmup was FANFUCKINGTASTIC. I had a horse under me who could have won training level dressage if the canter would have been as good as the trot. The only hairy moment was when the pony with the hat and another pony came TEARING down the track at a dead gallop. One extremely kind woman on a quiet horse kinda got in front of them and was like "YOU HAVE TO STOP NOW," because Mo was literally spinning. The kids didn't know better, and no one wants to take away their fun, but... that wasn't okay. And their trainer should be a little embarrassed.

Anyway, the test wasn't as good as the warmup because he's a green baby, but it was definitely his best test yet. The judge really loved him. She said he has to go forward more (yes. It's about time for spurs) and solidify the connection to the bit (absolutely, this is what we're working on at home), but that he's "a very nice horse" and "quite a good mover" and we just have to smooth out the edges. I appreciated her feedback and patted him a lot. I was pleased with our score and the collective remarks.

35 isn't a world-changer, but it's respectable enough for now
He hacked back to the trailer on the buckle like a professional show horse. And honestly, that made my heart swell even more than his good behavior in the dressage warmup, because it's one thing to have a horse be calm and listening when you're giving him a job, but it's another thing to have such an all-around pleasant mount when he has a chance to look around. THAT was the blue-ribbon moment for me.

We swapped out the dressage tack for the jumping gear and headed right back up. We were nearing the last 15 minutes of the window for intro jumping--just tiny cross rails--but it turned out I could have taken my time a bit more, because intro was running behind. No biggie. I jumped a few cross rails until he understood the job and then waited for our turn. He stood very nicely, and then went in the ring calmly. The trot was a little behind my leg to the first jump, but he popped over it. On the way to the second jump he spooked like eight times and then was like "WHO PUT THAT THERE" and took a step back. Sad trombone, because we would have been third and there's no reason to stop at an X, but who cares. Onwards! The rest of the course was great, and he got lots of pats and kisses from me while we waited for them to put the jumps up. I'd added a second HC round at 2'3", because I thought it would be fun and it would be a chance to let him canter around a course away from home a bit.

And man am I ever glad I did. For one thing, he had to wait around for quite some time. I let him choose whether he wanted to stand or walk quietly in a circle, because those are both acceptable and fighting about standing still would have been a pointless waste of energy. He mostly chose to walk. As they put the jumps up, someone raised the one warmup fence to a vertical, which I shared with a kid on a bad pony (that pony literally dumped the kid and then stepped on him when they were on course, yikes). A couple hops over the vertical to remind Mo what we were doing, and then we got in line. Where he stood still with strange horses and people all around him, some of whom were making a lot of noise in the warmup, and through all the commotion when the kid got unloaded. And the ring steward fell in love with him (he acquired quite a fan club over there, to be honest, because he's so stinking cute). He let her pet him, and another lady who clearly didn't know anything about horses also got to snuggle with him a little. Again, I almost got choked up, because it was only a month ago that Mo wouldn't let Brian Ross touch him (still dying of shame over that one).

We went back in and I made it my mission to establish a strong trot to the first fence, and then trot or canter the rest depending on what I was feeling under me. So he landed cantering from the first jump and I told him that I was still mad (note: not actually mad) about the stop at 2 in the first round. He trotted RIGHT over it this time, and we cantered a few strides before trotting 3, then cantered 4 and 5 (a bending line with some spooky fill). We maintained a nice canter up the long side and around the top before turning back down the diagonal to 6, a spooky sailboat thing. He trotted it, but in a positive way, which is fine. The canter on landing from 6 was SPECTACULAR and 7 showed up right out of it. It was a left turn to 8, and the canter was good until he got wiggly because 8 would be a B element for the next height up and they'd put standards in the way. No problem, we trotted it so he could get straight, cantered 9, and then another just glorious canter around the top of the ring. It was a hard left turn to 10, and we trotted the turn and the jump because we do not yank baby horses off their feet. Twenty five million pats later we were out of the ring, and I just could not stop smiling. There's video but I'm still trying to get it uploaded.

My mom was like "that canter was INCREDIBLE" and I was all "I KNOW" and honestly if the jumps had been 4'3" instead of 2'3", they'd have been just fine out of that stride. He grew up SO. MUCH. in that round. Here are some crappy video stills of his grown up canter:

Um hello uphill canter with literally no effort from me

And then? Back to the trailer on the buckle, right after cantering jumps away from home. Good god do I love him right now. Because while pretty much every thoroughbred can figure out jumping, not all of them can do this:

A real show horse.

I'm glad we went XC schooling before we went to Morningside, because I think he learned a lot there about trusting me and about keeping his marbles away from home. And he gained even more maturity at Morningside, where he listened to my words, tried his very best, and seemed to genuinely enjoy himself.

We should be out at Hunt Club for their starter trial in another couple weeks, and that'll be it until fall, but if we had to stop here I'd be okay with that, too. I'm so so so happy with my horse, y'all. He's really something special.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Cross Country Schooling and the Mental Game

I DEEPLY APOLOGIZE for not having any pics from the XC school itself. That's just how it is for me these days. If one of you wants to move to my area and go on fun adventures together, we can take pictures for each other. In the meantime, I'll have to make do with what I've got.

After the disaster that was the "cross country" at Loch Moy (I still can't quite bring myself to consider Intro to be actual cross country--if the horse could do the whole thing just as easily at a walk... But this is helpful to me because I have tiny XC issues, which we'll get to in a moment).

Reusing show pics because I paid for them, dammit.

Last Wednesday M and I took Mo to a local farm to use their wonderful XC course. But I should back up: the week before we went on our XC school, we had a jump lesson in the ring that SUCKED A LOT at first and then was fabulous, and it all depended on how I was riding. This is how M put it: if I was riding like an amateur, spending my mental energy worrying or being hard on myself, I could hardly get the course done. If instead I thought like a professional, just thinking about what I needed to do and what aids to use, it went great. It wasn't a hard course--about 2'6", no crazy lines, well within his ability to trot or canter, and certainly not at the top of my skill set. After the warmup, which was just okay, I jumped through the course once. It was a mess. I was micromanaging his pace instead of just letting him canter boldly forward, if I didn't see a distance (and who could see a distance out of the shitty canter I was producing) I'd just kinda be all "Jesus take the wheel." When I pulled up at the end, I was near tears.

And then as I was giving him a walk break and trying not to totally lose it, M said: "You need to ride like a professional. You DO ride like a professional. I don't know what that was all about just now." And then she let me think for a minute, and I used that minute to change the mental tape in my head from "goddammit how come I can't do this basic shit" to "what this horse needs is for you to sit up, put your leg on, and keep feeling the corners of his mouth until he's in the air, and that is going to have excellent results."

So the second time through the course, I did that. Instead of being all "FUCKING HELL I MESSED THAT UP" I was like "send him now, open the right rein here, stay connected, good boy, balance through the turn." And holy shit did that ever work. The second ride through the course was brilliant. My little horse can really use himself well, and when M yelled "Make his canter feel like a grown up show jumper" as I was getting started, everything just clicked into place. I had a horse I could ride for real. Of course he's far from having a lead change (although because he is a goddamn genius he will sometimes just do one), but cantering through courses in jump schools is making his canter better, and if I rode him leg-to-hand like a real horse, he responded appropriately. Damn.

Back to XC schooling: I have never really fallen in love with XC. I'm confident enough in myself as a rider, and in Mo as a really excellent horse, to try again. I'm riding with M, after all. If she can't turn me into an eventer, it simply cannot be done. And even if I do ultimately want Mo to be an A/O jumper or something, I think some time in the lower levels of eventing will teach him quite a lot. If I fall in love with eventing along the way, yay. M is always saying that he's a Rolex horse (though we can't really know that because he's so green, but it's fabulous to hear that she thinks he has that potential, and she'd know). I think what he is is a really quality horse who could go any direction.

We took Mo over to the XC schooling to see how he'd handle himself with M on the ground to holler at me when I was messing up and with the ability to repeat the same jump endlessly until it was boring before moving on. He started out fine as I walked him back and forth over a very tiny log. When I asked him to trot the log, which was seriously 12" high at most, he was like "FUCK THIS I'M OUTTA HERE." We got over that a few times until he calmed down, and then a couple more little logs, and then M pointed us at a jump that was a pile of logs and a good early fence for a BN course. No dice. After a few refusals, M was like "we'll get back to this" and moved us along. More logs, some better than others, and then the faux ditch, which had weeds growing out of it that he thought he should clear, ha. The actual ditch was no problem. Up the bank, down the bank--no real issues there, though it was a little nerve wracking at first. Turns out Mo LOVES water and thinks trotting in it is really fun. So there's the holy trinity of eventing taken care of.

Then she had me string a little course together that involved both ditches, up the bank, over whatever logs I found, through the water, a couple more logs, and the BN jump we couldn't manage in the beginning. I tried to give him the sensation of really being on course, of going forward and looking for the next jump. That seemed to work, and I rode confidently to the BN jump which he hopped right over this time. M liked what she was seeing now and had me trot him to a little dog house: "It's a new shape for him, but stay connected, and if he stops he stops, but give him the pro ride." He DID stop the first time, but M assured me that I had ridden correctly. With that positive feedback, I just rode him exactly the same way the second time and he jumped it. We jumped it a few more times, and then headed to a bench, and I replicated the sensation I had at the dog house. His confidence had gone WAY UP at the dog house, and he was taking me to the bench. Then the BN hanging log. Then all four BN fences in a row and one more time through the water as a reward.

He isn't this baby horse anymore.

The horse I got off was a much better horse than the one I got on that day. He trusted me more, and my faith in him went up too. He learned that he can do things he hasn't ever tried, and jump things he hasn't seen. I don't know what will happen the next time we try XC, but I sure have a lot of reason to believe that he'll own it if I give him a positive ride. And it won't be long before he can canter in the dressage ring, and then we'll find ourselves graduating from intro. And you know what? I'm starting to think of that as exciting instead of scary.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Some Cute Stuff

I was looking through my phone and realized that there are some cute blog-worthy pictures around and stories to go with them. I hope a post totally not driven by narrative is still interesting.

OMG I love him even when he's bad
 I guess Mo likes to read his dressage tests. This was from Gordonsdale. I think he was sticking his tongue out because he wanted 10s on his gaits. Unlikely, my darling OTTB.

It's all Pony Club all the time around here.
At least we have helmets on.
 My nephew is really enjoying Sugar when he gets a chance to ride her. He's a bit of a timid kiddo, so he's happiest riding with me up there too and my mom leading him. Sugar doesn't care. She's just pleased to have the attention.

She is not pleased to have to wear a grazing muzzle. It doesn't matter how many times I tell her that founder = death. I think she'd take grass + death over the grazing muzzle and her one flake of hay in the nibble net in her stall. We are very cruel humans over here.

If only I had a sharpie.
 I just took this picture to humiliate my horse. I love how he was sleeping with his mouth kind of open. I got his whole mane pulled and his bridle path clipped while he was out. It was glorious.

So cute. So naughty.
 To make it up to him, here are a couple of pictures of him looking adorable. He sure knows how to rock that blaze face for maximum snuggles even in times of great badness.

Uh huh. Sleepy. I bet.
He will sometimes trick you by playing possum, standing around looking like this and then acting like a total nut once you're on. Oh well. You take the good with the bad.

M made fun of these polo wraps but I don't care. I like them.
 Red continues to be handsome. He's VERY good most of the time, although occasionally he'll have a day where he thinks the most fun to be had is in spooking and spinning. It sucks to ride through, and I wouldn't let anyone else sit on him when he's like that, but then the next day he comes out fine. I think he appreciates it when he gets to wear a cute outfit like this one and then he behaves better.

Blurry pics, yay.
I took this so my friend who sent him to me could see that his coat is shiny. Could I have done a better job demonstrating that? Surely. But sometimes you're texting and riding and this is the result. I'm pleased with his coat and body condition. Now maybe I need to find a horse show to take him to.

So there are some odds and ends. In other news, I'm thinking of doing a Great Girth Comparison Review between the Total Saddle Fit dressage girth and the County Logic. If anyone has thoughts they want me to consider--and maybe I'll quote you--please holler at me. I have both girths and I'm going to sell one, but at this point in my mind there's no clear winner.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Riding Rainbow's First Contest

Over the winter when I had nothing interesting to say, I fussed around with the blog's appearance. Not to any noticeable effect, I should add. I need someone with Blogger skills to help me out with some questions. Or maybe I'll just migrate over to Wordpress. But that isn't the contest!

I need a logo. I'm jealous of you logo-having people. But I lack the skills necessary to make one myself. So I'm openly copying Amanda, and asking y'all to come up with one for me.

Because a contest without a prize is just an exercise in greed, and because this blog's name is a play on Reading Rainbow, the winner will be able to select from a choice of books that I love and think are well worth reading:

First up, Doug Payne's marvelous Riding Horse Repair Manual. I reviewed it here, but in case you missed it, this book is fantastic. If your horse has ever had a problem, or might have one in the future, pick up this book.

Second, Jane Savoie's That Winning Feeling. I adore this book, even though sometimes Jane's writing can be a bit... much... for me. This book has helped me tremendously with my riding. I'm making several of you read it right now, actually!

And finally, my favorite book of all time in any genre, Riding and Jumping by the incomparable Bill Steinkrauss. I can't live without it. Neither can you.

If you already have all three of these books, don't worry, we'll work something out. I can get my hands on Jim Wofford's latest, or Grooming to Win, or whatever might pique your interest.

So, details:
Let's make it easy and call the deadline July 4 at midnight EST.
Submit as many entries as you want.

Send entries to jess dot clawson at gmail dot com or via FB message or whatever.

Think about it this way: because I've slacked at blogging I've probably lost some readership, which means fewer entries, and a better chance of winning. So you should do it.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015


And when you're in a slump
You're not in for much fun
Unslumping yourself
Is not easily done.
--Dr. Seuss, "Oh, the Places You'll Go"

I'm a preschool teacher, remember?


Here we are in the land of "my horse is a jackass and I need to put on my big boy pants and fix it." I was JUST HERE a year ago, with a bitchy mare who I loved beyond all measure, and now I've got a bitchy gelding who I love a lot when he's not being a total shit.

So yesterday M and I decided it was high time that he went on "the loop": his normal hack around the paddocks, but where we'd turn left to go back to the barn, we instead went straight down a very steep, very rocky, very narrow path in the woods to a lovely meadow by the creek. Ride all the way around the meadow, then back up the steep horrid hill and back the way we came (rather than turning right to head back to the barn). Clear as mud, hey?

M was riding her young horse Spike, who is an asshole in his own way but is by far the most reliable trail horse on the farm except the kid's pony. Nothing Mo did would impress him at all, and thank god for that. On walk out days, we don't spend time in the ring. The point of Mondays is to bring the horses back into work after they've had the weekend off with a 20 minute walk. It's lovely, and I quite enjoy it when I get to ride Spike or Bo or Taz, all of whom are broke to the hill. Anyway, we both got on and then headed right out to walk, and Mo LITERALLY bucked OUT OF THE GATE. It took me about six strides to get him to cut that shit out. And then he continued to be a jerk for a good long while until M made me trot past her to give him something to do, and figuring he'd maybe be happier in front. He was, until it was time to go Down The Hill.

Here, lemme ask you: Have you ever been riding down a truly steep hill and had a horse buck? And then you kicked him and then he tried to spin to go back up the hill so you sent him to the moon? And then when he'd had enough of the hill, he reared? Because lemme tell you: you really should try it sometime. No, really. It will convince you that you can sit on whatever the hell happens, and give you an appreciation for the athleticism of the beast to whom you must stick.

We got to the bottom and he tried the rearing/spinning thing some more, so with M YELLING at me to make him trot, I pony club-kicked him and made him move his ass on a 20m circle until he stopped acting like such a terrorist.

And after that? Walked on a loose rein for almost the entire rest of the day. There was a minor temper tantrum when he had to go back up the hill, but I kicked him and then he had to stay in a walk all the way back to the top. After that, he was good to go. Chill and happy, and hopefully a little tired.

So here we are: horse won't do anything he doesn't feel like doing without having a temper fit. Fine. I'm an extremely stubborn person, I'm a good rider, and I have the best coach around. But am I having fun? No, not really. That's green horses, man. You've got to take the bitter with the sweet. I have no intention of selling Mo, or making M ride him for me, or in any way backing down. I can do this, he can do this, and when he's good, he's unstoppable.

But just for fun, let's revisit our old friend Doug Payne and his ideas about your horse's suitability for you:
Can you handle this horse's problem(s)?
Yeah. No worries here. He might unload me at some point, but whatever. Seriously, all I really need to do is kick him a lot and be the boss. When I get that done, I win.

Do you have a personal goal in mind?
Many. Right now, I want Mo to be consistent in the baby version of contact we're doing, hack out and leave the property without dramatics, and start being the good citizen I know he wants to be. Ultimately, I'd like to see us in the Level 5 jumpers and doing some third level dressage, either for fun or competition.

Are you mentally prepared to improve?
Totally. I'm re-reading That Winning Feeling now to confirm this.

Are you at the right barn?
I'll just quote myself from last year: "YES. Absolutely. I could not be happier. I wish I could stay forever." And MAYBE I WILL.

With your goal in mind and the environment ripe for improvement, is your horse truly able to reach that goal with you?
He's capable of the short and long-term goals. We can get this done together, especially with M's help.

Are you willing to make the best of the opportunity you have with your horse?
Totally. It would be hard to imagine myself working harder at this point in my life to become a better rider. I ride all day until I go to work and come home and ride more. Which is why I never have time to blog, ha.

Do you know when it's time to go to a professional trainer for lessons?
Again, from last year: "Girl please. I'd take a lesson every day if I could."

What do you need to improve before dealing with the horse's specific problems?

I just need to be more of a hard-ass than my horse is, really. He wants to see what he can get away with and my answer needs to always be "nothing."

Do you have the desire--and time--to dedicate to solving your horse's issues?
Yes to both, thank goodness.

Is fear limiting your potential?
Nah. Not at this stage of the game.

So here's what I'm gonna do to fix this:

1. I'm going to read books, like That Winning Feeling and Doug's book again. I can do this on days like today when the weather sucks or at night when it's too dark to ride. Reading helps me a lot, because for me right now, the improvements I need to make are mental. I have the skills necessary to accomplish just about whatever I want to do at this moment (I mean, don't put me in the Grand Prix ring in any discipline, but we're talking about getting a horse to trot a circle and canter a little and jump some 2'6" stuff in the ring).

2. I'm going to use one of Jane Savoie's tricks that I picked up last time I read her book, and pretend that I'm training Mo for Tracy instead of myself (congratulations, Tracy). Not because I think I'm a better rider than she is, but because I know that if he was her horse and he was acting like this, I would ride him with every ounce of skill I have at all times and not get sucked into his head games until he was the perfect gentleman Tracy deserves.

3. I'm going to channel Denny Emerson and think like a horse trainer instead of a grubby little competitor. I don't need Mo to win me lots of ribbons this year, but I do need him to get on the same page as me.

4. Leg on. Leg on. Leg on.

5. Down the hill every day until he stops complaining about it.

This is horse training. It's not all kisses and carrots.

Monday, June 1, 2015

For the Dressage People: Brian Ross

Back in my horse showing catch up post, I mentioned that I did a fix-a-test clinic with the incomparable Brian Ross. I finally managed to get on wifi good enough to put it online, so here it is, all 25 minutes. You can see the good, the bad, and the ugly. I'm so grateful to my mom for filming this so I have this to look back at. I need the reminders, clearly.

Watching someone else's dressage lesson is only for the most committed, but maybe it'll be helpful to some of you. If nothing else, he has a pretty cool accent.